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Writer's Block Solution 3: The Character Spine

Soulless Zombie's picture

Give your character a spine.

Now, by this, I do not mean your character is spineless. Nor do I mean she is limp. Simply put, I mean to say, let’s give her a spine.

Whereas before I’ve talked about plotting a story (incidentally, a technique that was done to model quality in the Tash/Victor plot that resulted in the being Vicasha), creating a character spine requires only ONE burst of inspiration. You don’t have to envision ten posts in advance. You just need one line of thought that binds all the posts you will write.

Think episodically. Indiana Jones is a good example. Indy’s spine might look like this:

Will Indiana Jones discover ancient artifacts and dare to return each to its rightful owner? (Usually a museum.)

A character spine is something you write and perfect and tape to your computer for easy reference. Refer to it every time you sit down to write, even it you know it by heart. Make sure you're eyes see it. Whenever you feel lost about what adventure to tell next, glance at this mission statement. It is the bible for your character. It is meant to inspire.

It is that which shapes her, your PC. It is too easy to get lost in the trees and forget the purpose of our protagonist. The character spine reminds us.

Notice the careful wording:

Will (implying a forward, purposeful momentum) Indiana Jones (the flavorful name of our hero) discover (the stories we tell will have to do with seeking and finding) ancient artifacts (do your research and make each object sound unique) and (we ain’t through, kids!) dare (implying an adventurous character…perhaps a daredevil) to return each to its rightful owner (implying a PC with strong sense of morality: ‘It belongs in a museum!’)”

It’s not as easy as you might think creating a spine. You have to figure out the overall thrust of your character. Here’s the spine Sam Aubrey finished growing a month or two ago, which I use whenever I write for him:

Will Samuel Brendan Aubrey prove that he’s smart, respectable and, in the grand scheme of things, a worthy birth, all the while keeping The Idea inside, the universe from ending?

Excluding side-trips (otherwise known as subplots), my stories are meant to further the answering of this question.

He’s seeking to prove himself worthy. He’s never late for anything. He always helps someone in need. He is the best janitor he can be. He seeks to better himself through combat training. He wants a parent to love him. He wants to be loved by anyone.

He ain't the brightest sparkler in the box, as we all know. Can he be smart, though? Time will tell.

Is he respectable? How do you judge this? Perhaps his respectability is answered in the people he can call friends. Don’t you have to be somewhat respectable to have Tash for a friend? Or Reah. Or Jade. Or, by god, the likes of Victor Tek. Making friends are definately a part of Sam's storline.

Is he a worthy birth; should he have been born? The stories that surround him reek of this quest for self-esteem through birth. Look at the NPC's whom are near him. Bill’s pregnancy is an extreme example. The birth of Mother Mariah, too. Kimmie herself was born of sheer will.

Then there’s this Idea thing mentioned in his spine. It guides him, shapes him, is The Force. In recent posts, as of this writing, The Idea is all he can *ahem* think about. It attracts trouble from every nook in Alhambra and beyond. It is his nemesis. It is also a part of him. It is implied in the character spine that if Sam can’t contain The Idea, disaster will follow. “A Street Hope Renamed Disaster” exemplified this. His greatest strength is his greatest weakness. Will he somehow contain the disease, thought itself?

It is apparent by now that your own character spine, though solid, pointed, and impetuous, shall be expressed in the form of a question. Always. Start with “Will” and end with “?” to get you jump-started creating one. Everything in-between is up to you. So then, when you sit down to write, check your character spine, neatly Scotch-taped in view. You will automatically feel oriented. You will begin thinking in terms of answering that question. Story ideas will follow.

Will our hero Indy discover an artifact this episode? If he already has, will he get it back to a reputable museum?

Yes? How?

No? Why not? What happens?

Yes! He uncovers the Ark of the Covenent and, er, NO, well...it gets boxed up and placed in storage. A hollow victory.

Yes! He retrieves the Indian stone and returns it--and all the children--to the starving tribespeople.

Yes! He gets the cup of the Christ. No. He leaves it at the Canyon of the Crescent Moon, though this IS the cup's rightful home. (Many YES's are mixed with NO's. These make great, although grey, stories!)

Or how about this:

Will Sam reach the emerald city and get his brain during this upcoming post?

Yes, no, maybe?


Write about it.

Tell about it.

Show us.

I will.

All in all, the spine can be thought of as the ultimate storyline for your character. Does that mean you’re stuck with it forever? Naw. You can rewrite your character spine at a future date. However, changing one’s quest can’t be done at a whim. It will take many posts, no doubt, explaining why one’s purpose in life changes. Sounds like an idea for a season finale to me.

I leave you with these potential (just thought up off the top of my head, not to insult or bother anyone) spines:

Galen's Spine:
Will Galen uncover the truth about MJ12, bring those to justice, while keeping himself and his lover, Kate, safe?

Shaping up to be a romantic conspiracy, wouldn't you say?

Will Tarix uncover the monstrous truth of her Koolang heritage, Thule, and the Order of Valor?

Shaping up to be a psychological horror/mystery from the demon's point of view, for sure.

Will Sid ever get it together and buy that van and travel the country solving mysteries?

Can you all say, "Scooby Doo rip-off?"

I can. Every day.

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